Milk protests 'blew up' Europe's reputation abroad

The European Union's agriculture commissioner has warned that pictures of price protests in which farmers could be seen dumping huge amounts of milk into fields have had a hugely damaging effect on the EU's reputation in the developing world.


AFP - The EU agriculture commissioner on Monday warned that price protests which have seen farmers pour away huge amounts of milk are damaging trade diplomacy with developing countries.

Addressing European Union farm ministers as hundreds of protesters gathered outside, the commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, said Chile's Foreign Minister Mariano Fernandez told her last week that Europe's image had been tarnished.

"He told me that during a top-level meeting between Africa and Latin America in Venezuela, pictures were projected onto a large screen showing European farmers pouring out millions of litres of milk into the fields," she said.

"Apparently, these images immediately blew up Europe's reputation in the developing world like a tonne of dynamite.

"The common view was that in times when hunger is still an increasing problem worldwide, European farmers are destroying foodstuffs on a large scale just to receive more subsidies."

Monday's meeting, called by the Swedish EU presidency at the request of France to discuss extra aid to milk farmers, was targeted by protesters on tractors who brought Brussels traffic to a standstill.

European milk producers say that a collapse in market prices is driving many of them out of business.

"It is our common responsibility to correct this image and to reassure our trading partners in the world, especially the developing countries, that Europe is not doing a U-turn in its Common Agricultural Policy," Fischer Boel added.

The commissioner said member states are being given leeway to pay farmers "state aid of up to 15,000 euros" (22,000 dollars) per producer under temporary economic crisis arrangements.

Awaiting the conclusions of a expert panel, Fischer Boel underlined: "It would be irresponsible of me to promise 'quick fixes' that might in fact be ineffective in the short term and damaging in the long term."

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